GE and Actua Bring Digital Basics to Business

When it comes to the digital revolution, a bit of learning goes a long way.

In a fifth-floor conference room in downtown Vancouver, a group of professionals is hunched over laptops, trying to illuminate Western Canada.

The computers are connected to maps dotted with LED lights, which they can turn on or off using a bit of code from an educational programming language called Snap. It’s an exercise in frustration, however, since the facilitators of this event—five young tech enthusiasts from the educational non-profit Actua—have added a hidden challenge. 

Participants help each other master basic coding skills.

Participants help each other learn basic coding skills.

After watching the participants struggle for a few minutes, the facilitators let them in on the secret. Without giving too much away—no spoilers!—here’s a hint: When it comes to computer programming, each small adjustment can have larger implications.

It’s an important lesson, and the same could be said of how we engage with the ongoing technology revolution: a bit of learning can have a big impact.

Learning to 3D print

For many attendees, this was the first time they had tried computer programming.

The coding exercise is part of Actua’s Maker Mobile Innovation 150 Tour, currently traveling across Canada. Actua is delivering technology workshops to young people in dozens of towns and cities across the country, and collaborating with GE Canada to host special events for professionals who are seeking a “101” hands-on learning experience.

Block-programming is a user-friendly tool for beginners.

Block-programming is a user-friendly tool for beginners.

Whether it’s changes to products and services, the people we hire, or tools we use, the digital shift is impacting the way we work today, and will continue to do so well into the future. The World Economic Forum estimates that at least 30% of an employee’s work will need to be relearned within the next three to four years. This is just one of many reasons why individuals and business need to embrace lifelong learning.

Workshop participants adopt a "figure-it-out" mindset.

Workshop participants collaborate to tackle coding challenges.

Along with a discussion on the future of work with industry experts, the Vancouver event included opportunities to code, 3D model and print, and use block-programming to power up Canada. According to Kevin Semple, a facilitator with Actua, “There were a lot of people in the room who had never programmed before, but they were able to be successful with the task.”

All these exercises show that a little willingness goes a long way. Technologies that many found intimidating became more familiar and fun. And whether or not participants go on to become code warriors, they can take this confidence-building experience and apply it to other skills they want to pick up.

Kevin Semple, an Actua facilitator, coaches a first-time coder.

Kevin Semple, an Actua facilitator, coaches a first-time coder.

In her opening speech, GE Canada CEO Elyse Allan spoke about how the figure-it-out mindset is key to succeeding in the new economy. “Easier said than done!” says Dr. Alexandra Greenhill, CEO and co-founder of myBestHelper, and one of the participants at the workshop. “When the workshop instructors gave us some starting points, and let us explore the 3D printing software, there was a small moment of initial panic that went through the room. Then people engaged and you heard laughter and excitement, as we all started to ‘figure it out’ on our own.”

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